‘The search for Anglican Unity should not prevent the appointment of gay bishops.’ So says the leader in today’s Times, and it succinctly sums up the thrust of the article, expressing support for Jeffrey John, whose potential candidacy to be Bishop of Southwark appears to have been blocked by the Archbishop of Canterbury, due to the threat posed by Dr John’s homosexual orientation to the unity of the Anglican communion. As tends to be the case, there is an undertone of frustration in the article and the implication that it is about time the Church caught up with Society in its attitude and approach to homosexuality.
I don’t intend to debate here the perceived rights and wrongs of homosexual behaviour! I do see a danger, though, of the Church of England (and other denominations) giving in to popular demand and blending in with the prevailing culture. ‘Society accepts same-sex partnerships,’ the argument might run, ‘and, therefore, so should we.’
I’m currently reading ‘Exclusion and Embrace’ by Miroslav Volf. I was struck by his critique of churches that have sought the easy life of supporting the status quo in their environment. Thus, for example, the Apartheid regime of South Africa was supported and affirmed by church groups, and the Lutheran Church has been roundly criticised for failing to speak out against Fascism under Hitler. Volf suggests that churches need to cultivate a proper relation between distance from the prevailing culture, and belonging to it. He reminds us that ‘at the very core of Christian identity lies an all-encompassing change of loyalty, from a given culture with its gods to the God of all cultures’ (p40).
The Church Universal has a proud history of being counter-cultural and bringing much-needed change. It also has a sad history of acquiescing to injustice in its own ranks and in society. If nothing else, perhaps each Christian denomination, and each local church, needs to take a step back and ask, ‘In which areas is God calling us to show solidarity with public opinion, and in which areas is God wanting us to be different?’ Of course, decisions will be influenced by the balance of appeal to Scripture, tradition and reason in each denomination. But at least we will not be blindly following public opinion and public culture, but instead seeking to follow our Lord.